Educator of the week, Mr. Paul Jolstead, sent me a piece of Oregon mythology: the infamous exploding whale. I’ve seen this video clip before, and heard the story many times, but I suspect that many of you are unfamiliar with it. Here’s the original news story (3:26):

According to the Wikipedia:

On November 12, 1970, a 14 m (45 ft), eight-ton sperm whale died as a result of beaching itself near Florence, Oregon. Since all Oregon beaches are under the jurisdiction of the state Parks and Recreation Department, responsibility for disposing of the carcass fell upon the Oregon Highway Division (now known as the Oregon Department of Transportation, or ODOT), a sister agency.

After consulting with officials at the United States Navy, they decided that it would be best to remove the whale in the same way they would remove a boulder and, on November 12, used half a ton of dynamite to remove it. They thought burying the whale would be ineffective, as it would soon be uncovered, and they believed the use of dynamite would cause an explosion that would disintegrate the whale into pieces small enough for scavengers to clear up.

The engineer in charge of the operation, George Thornton, was recorded as stating that one set of charges might not be enough and more might be needed. Thornton later explained that he was chosen to remove the whale because the district engineer, Dale Allen, had gone hunting.

The resulting explosion was caught on film by television photographer Doug Brazil for a story reported by news reporter Paul Linnman of KATU-TV in Portland, Oregon. In his voiceover, Linnman joked that “land-lubber newsmen” became “land-blubber newsmen”, for “the blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds.”

The explosion caused large pieces of blubber to land some distance away from the beach, resulting in a smashed car. The explosion disintegrated only some of the whale, most of which remained on the beach for the Oregon Highway Division workers to clear away.

Comedy gold.

Speaking of the Jolstead-Woodruff clan, Amy Jo’s blog has been humming right along lately. Go check out From a Corner Table. But be warned: you’ll come away hungry. (Paul, I want to see your beautiful engraved apple!)

2 Replies to “Oregon History: The Exploding Whale”

  1. Paul J. says:

    I’m a bit chagrined that I didn’t know about this incident. (And I call myself a native Oregonian.)

    I can’t help but relating this to the WKRP in Cincinnati (infamous) “turkey drop” episode.

  2. Joel says:

    I love love this story. And today I especially love that Thornton, the engineer who decided to go with TNT, was in charge only because his boss, Dale Allen, was away hunting. Imagine the staff meeting that took place after Allen came back! It’s like “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” only with exploding whales.

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